I run. I run a lot. I mean, I am no Adam Welcome or Dean Karnazes, but I run. In the last decade, I have logged more than 12,000 miles, run 5 marathons, and burned through about 30 pairs of shoes. I am not fast. I don’t win any trophies, but I run anyway.
When I run I am able to clear my head and get lost in my thoughts. I have had some of my greatest ideas while all alone on a backcountry road putting in the miles. When I run, I am increasing my cardiovascular fitness and overall fitness. I could argue that running has helped shape me into the educator I am today. Running allows me a chance to breathe and think. Running consistently allows me to stay mentally fresh. Running keeps me healthy so that I can show up for work each and every day. Running works for me.
Imagine now, that this Fall, on your first day back to school, I come to your school district and tell you all this story, then follow it up with the following expectation. “This year you will be evaluated on your ability to run like me. In May, we will run an educator marathon. In order for you to receive an ‘effective’ evaluation label, you must finish your marathon, a full 26.2 miles, in a time similar to my average of about 4 hours. If you beat my time, you earn a ‘highly effective’. If you finish slower than me you earn a minimally effective label. Fail to show up and you receive no credit.”
During this speech, I make the case that I am a successful educator. I have a doctorate degree. I have worked as a teacher, a building administrator, a central office administrator, a higher ed. professor, author, and speaker. I continue to argue that part of that success is in part because I run. If you want to have this level of success, you need to run.
I know this sounds ludicrous. I also know that if something like this were actually attempted by me, a grievance would be filed with the teachers’ union before I even left the stage. Some may say that running has nothing to do with teaching. Others may complain that they have a disadvantage because they never run a day in their life. Others may have physical limitations. Maybe the PE teachers would be excited thinking they finally have an evaluation model that meets their needs, but most others would see this for what it is, a completely arbitrary and subjective performance review based on my limited experience and not on an objective review of evidence. They would argue that my expectations are not equitable and are not centered around what matters most.
The problem is, we often do something similar in our classrooms when we determine how we will evaluate our students. We often think back on our own school experiences and come up with criteria based more on what worked for us when we were students than by objectively reviewing the standards and determining what quality evidence of student mastery really looks like.
We tell our students that their grades will be impacted by when their assignments are turned in, the color of ink that is used, the spelling of words on the page, or my personal favorite, whether the hairy edges are cut off of the page when ripped out of a spiral notebook. We justify our grading decisions by making claims that if students really cared about their grades then they would put forth the effort to play the game of school by our rules, because after all, “it worked for us”.
The truth of the matter is this, as I write this, I am a 42-year-old father of four kids, who has worked in two states, and five school districts. I have struggled with depression and anxiety. I have about $25,000 in debt and have my own share of personal demons. My goal is not to create other educators who are exact replicas of me but to help others reach their full potential to do more than I ever imagined. Measuring your success by your ability to do what I did only limits you to be what I am, not what you can be. Sure running helps me, but that does not mean it will help you. If I want to really help you be a better educator, the feedback I provide to you should be objective, specific, and focused on what you do as an educator. Similarly, if you want to help your students be better learners, their grades, their shorthand version of feedback, should be focused on objective measures of their learning progression and mastery, not our arbitrary attempts to make smaller versions of ourselves.
We know that what we grade we value and what we value we teach. This year as you examine your grading practices, pay special attention to what is measured and what is assessed to be sure that your policies do not limit your students but instead allow them to get an accurate evaluation of their progress in reaching their potential, not yours.
But, these are just my thoughts…
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